Archive for January, 2016

Homily for the 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C (Feb 7)

January 30, 2016

Homily for the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C  (Feb 7)

The prophet Isaiah, in our first reading, has a vision of God in all God’s glory. His reaction to the vision is one of awe but also one in which he has a horrifying realization of how sinful and unworthy he was in the midst of all this perfection and holiness.  He understands the human condition to be an impure condition, and he cries out in hopelessness: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips.”

The contrast between the human condition and the glory that is heaven and the presence of God was so great as to make him lose all hope. But this condition was suddenly altered when an angel came with a burning coal and placed it on Isaiah’s lips, burning away the sinfulness and the guilt that Isaiah was feeling.

It is significant that it was the mouth that was so purified, because short;y after, God is looking for someone to be a spokesperson for him, a prophet, and Isaiah, in gratitude, calls out “Here I am, Lord. send me.” The proper attitude toward forgiveness of sin is some sort of action that shows our thankfulness, our gratitude, our love for God’s mercy.

Similarly, in the second reading today which does pick up this theme, Paul also has a vision. His reaction to this vision is one of humility: “I am the least of the Apostles, unfit to be called an Apostle…” and one of guilt: “…because I persecuted the Church of God.” So, like Isaiah, Paul has a vision of such glory that it causes him to recognize his sinfulness and to feel great guilt over it.  But, also like Isaiah, Paul says that he has been given the grace to know he is forgiven because “Christ died for our sins in accordance with he Scriptures” and Paul also sets out to do something in return. His shout of “Here I am, Lord” causes him to “proclaim” the Good News and to travel for the rest of life, founding churches and teaching the way of Jesus Christ.

In contrast to the vocational calls of Isaiah and Paul, we get a different kind of call in the Gospel reading today. In this account, we have no visions of the glory of God or of heaven itself and the angels, but we do get a miracle. The fishermen, led by Simon Peter, had been fishing all night and were not catching a thing. They decided to give up and come to shore and were cleaning their boats and their nets so they would be ready when they went out again. When Jesus asks the men to put one of the boats back into the water, Simon agrees, presumably because Jesus wanted to preach to those on the shoreline, which he did. But after he finished preaching, he told Simon to go a little deeper and lower his nets again. Simon is deferential but tries to explain to Jesus that there were no fish around that night, that they had tried and had given up. But because Simon Peter respected Jesus as a teacher, he did what Jesus asked him.

The result was miraculous. The nets were breaking with fish, so much so that they took out the second boat and also filled it with fish, so full it was in danger of collapse.

Here is where the three stories converge, however. The result of this miracle for Simon Peter was to make him realize his sinfulness in the presence of such a miracle-worker and teacher. He feels, like Isiah and Paul, both sinful and guilty. Jesus soothes Simon and the others simply by saying “Do not be afraid” for fear is the result of guilt of our sinfulness. After they had been relieved of their guilt, their reaction was the same as Isaiah and Paul, they went out and did something: “When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed Jesus.” Our response when we understand our humbling relationship with God and Christ is to evangelize in the best sense. To spread the good news of our being forgiven of our sins and the knowledge that there is grace enough for us to have eternal life in the kingdom of God.

All of this response to experiencing the divine is summed up by Paul at the end of today’s reading: “By the grace of God, I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of the Apostles – though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.  Whether then it was I or they, so we proclaim and so you have come to believe.

What does this mean for us right now?  I don’t know how many of us have actually experienced God in his glory, had a vision of God or have seen something so miraculous that it causes us to really understand how sinful we seem in contrast. Many of us are willing to take this on faith because of what we read today and because of the Catholic tradition. But those among us who have had an experience that caused us to re-evaluate our lives in light of the awesome of God and our Savior, can only react by doing something about it. That many of us do so many things without having experienced such an intense realization is a tribute to you and your faith and it will doubtless have a great reward.

My prayer today then is that we continue our works in furthering the kingdom in justice and mercy and that we will all experience one day the immense satisfaction and relief of knowing that our God loves and forgives and saves.

And this is the Good News that we need to preach each day of our lives!

Ronald Stephens

Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese and St. Andrew’s Cathedral Parish

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[Volume 3 (Luke) of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast from the last Cycle C, is available from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]

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Homily for the 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C (Jan. 31)

January 26, 2016

It would seem from the first reading from Jeremiah today that God has a specific plan for each us, but knowing that we have free will, God knows we will not always fulfill that plan. God wanted Jeremiah to be a prophet. So he gave Jeremiah all the qualities that a prophet would need to stand up to the establishment and be strong enough to get God’s message out there. Now God seems a little stern with Jeremiah on the aspect of free will, though. He says Jeremiah can choose not to do what I say, but there would be repercussions for that. God says, “I will break you before them.” So it does seem sometimes that God stacks the deck in order to get us to achieve his purposes. God’s plan and God’s ways are not our ways.

The Gospel today is like one of those TV shows where they start by saying…Previously on this show… and then recap what happened last week. Similarly today, we start with a recap of last week. Jesus is back in the synagogue in his hometown Nazareth, and after reading the Scriptures, he shakes up everyone by saying “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Doubtless the people in the Temple reading the prophets were not used to someone telling them that they were the fulfillment of a Scriptural prophecy, but Jesus did! If you had been one of the listeners, would you have believed Jesus or would you have felt that this arrogant young man had ambitions to be God-like or had a Prophet-complex. I don’t doubt we might have reacted in the same way as the listeners had we been there.

After all, he watched Jesus growing up and there didn’t seem to be anything particularly special about him. He was just Joseph’s son from Nazareth. Despite this fact, they had been amazed at the words of Jesus when he expounded on the Scriptures. What really made them angry, however, was the implication of his examples that not just the Hebrews were going to be saved. The two examples that Jesus quotes to them show that both involves prophets who went outside of their own people to Gentiles and worked miracles with them. This angered them so much that they wanted to put Jesus to death right there, but miraculously Jesus just walks through and disappears so they were unable to hurl him from the cliff.

I am reminded today of all the people who feel that their religion is the only true religion and they have been willing to kill for that reason. We saw it here in Jesus’ time, and we have seen it in our own Catholic history, and we see it today with the Christian and Muslim extremists.

The only antidote to this comes in the second reading today. I am not sure we get the full impact of this reading anymore because we have relegated it to weddings in the last many years.  But it is really not about weddings at all. It is about how we are to treat people in our daily lives. Unless we learn to love, there will be no peace in the world. And in this magnificently written section of Corinthians, we have Paul at his most poetic showing us all that love entails. It is a compendium of other virtues: patience, kindness, acceptance, joy in the success of others, humility, politeness, fearlessness, and truthfulness. The love that Paul is talking about springs from all these other virtues and is also the cause of the other virtues – a cyclical movement of care for others.

For Paul, love is the base of Christianity, and is the measure of its success. It is the greatest of all the virtues; it is the virtue that most makes us human. If we want to change the world we live in today, we need to find ways to make love visible in the world. We can say we have love, but it is in the doing of all those other things that makes love a reality. If we are patient with the cashier at the grocery store, if we are polite to the beggar asking for money, if we are kind to the mother whose children are acting out in the restaurant, if we are joyful when our neighbor across the street wins a lottery, if we are fearless in introducing ourselves to the Syrians who just moved in down the street, if we are honest with our spouses about expressing our needs. These are all simple signs of love in action.

“When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child.” Paul is trying to say that children are not yet very loving, but are more concerned with their own needs and desires. But when we grow up, [we] “put an end to childish ways. To not love our neighbor through loving action is a childish trait. We need to grow up, says Paul, and see the face of God in others, dimly perhaps, but there. If we can do that and treat everyone as we would treat our God, we ourselves can be fulfilled as well.

Not easy, but our society’s growth will depend on it. And this is the Good News of Scripture today.

Ronald Stephens

Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese and St. Andrew’s Cathedral Parish

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[Volume 3 (Luke) of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast from the last Cycle C, is available from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]

Homily for the 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C (Jan. 24)

January 16, 2016

Homily for the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C  (Jan. 24)

After a number of weeks of using the Gospel of Luke that is highlighted this year, today we actually begin at the beginning. The gospel today is the first chapter of Luke’s gospel and includes Luke’s justification for writing his version. He is aware that there are already other Gospels. He might well have know of Matthew and Mark’s versions, but Luke was a Gentile, brought up in Greek ways of doing things, and he felt that his Gospel should reflect the kind of order, historical accuracy, and proofs of its veracity. The book is addressed to Theophilus, and we don’t know whether Theophilus is a real Greek person who had been instructed in the faith, but had questions about the faith, or whether it is a term for many in Luke’s community because the word itself means “lover of God.” A third possibility I have heard given is that Theophilus is the lawyer that was defending Luke during his trial in Rome and he was giving him the background about Jesus that he had asked for.

In any case, as interesting as all the speculation is about who Theophilus was, we also get the modus operandi of Luke spelled out for us here. Luke wasn’t his account to be orderly, starting with the beginning and following the story through to its aftermath which would be the Acts of the Apostles. Many feel that these two books were written originally as one. He also says that what he is going to relate has been passed down by real eye-witnesses. These are the stories they told and that they remembered. He calls them “servants of the word” because they were entrusted to pass things down as they observed them and heard them.

Lastly, Luke says that he wanted everyone to know the truth about Jesus of Nazareth and so his orderly account would attempt to tell the truth and give proof of it.

After this short introduction, we then jump in our reading today to the fourth chapter. Having just been through our Christmas season, we read most of the first three chapters concerning the births of John the Baptist and Jesus, and Jesus baptism by John and his temptations in the desert.  The story picks up now at this point.

We saw how the Spirit came on Jesus at his baptism, and now Jesus begins his public life. It was traditional for rabbis to begin their ministries at the age of 30, just as in the Catholic church, most priests were not ordained until they were 30 or 31, following many years of study. So, as Jesus began to preach, he must have had a charisma about him because we are told that word began to spread about Galilee where he was preaching. We learn that he began by going to local synagogues which in Jesus time were places of study of Scripture where there would be informal praying, Scripture reading, and commentary. Luke wants everyone to know that Jesus was a good Jew, who held the Sabbath sacred, read the Scriptures and actively participated in his faith by reading and commenting on Scriptures.

Because he was preaching throughout Galilee the time came for Jesus to return to his hometown of Nazareth where he went to the synagogue in that town and read a piece of Scripture. Luke changes the order of Matthew and Mark here who place this story much later in Jesus career. The reason that Luke places this story of Jesus teaching in the Nazareth synagogue here is because it gives the answer to who Jesus is, what his ministry will be about and what response he will get.

The scroll handed him was from Isaiah the prophet. What this passage does is give Jesus what businesses would call their mission statement. What Jesus reads from Isaiah is what we call a servant song which describes the role of a messiah. He is to usher in a new age beginning as Jesus says, “Today”. All of the longings of the poor, the oppressed and the imprisoned will be satisfied and there will be liberty and a jubilee established. The jubilee for Jews came every seven years and was a time when debts were forgiven. Our reading ends today without a reaction from the crowd. All we hear is Jesus statement that “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Luke lets everyone know this early in his account, exactly who Jesus is – the Messiah, and what he will be doing and bringing about.

The first reading today is about the priest Ezra, who with the governor Nehemiah rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem after the Babylonian exile. Ezra wanted to stress the importance of Scripture to the Hebrew people again.  He gathered them all in what might have been the first synagogue and the priests read and commented on the Law, the first five books of Scripture, explaining it so that all understood it. When they heard the reading of the five books and understood their covenant with God and what God had done for them, the people wept. But Ezra told them not to weep, but to celebrate this knowledge and to share their celebrations with those who had nothing.

The relationship between these two readings is simply that both Ezra and Jesus were trying to explain to the people that the Law and the Prophets were something beautiful and that they should celebrate the fact that God was with them and loved them. The banquet that Ezra sent them to and the jubilee that Christ announced were the rewards for the faithfulness to God.

The second reading today could be a whole homily in itself, but I just want to comment briefly on it. It has no relationship to the other readings today, but is a continuation of the idea of the mystical body of Christ in which all the parts work together as one, and if one part is hurt, the other parts feel it. It is this unity of all us in the Spirit, just as Jesus reads about in Isaiah: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me.” It is the Spirit that unites, that makes us all one, that allows us to have separate gifts and talents that work to the good of everyone, and that allow us to see everyone as equal in the eyes of God.

This week we need to remind ourselves of this Spirit in all of us that unites us, find ways we can reach out to others, for their pain should be our pain as well. It is only in sharing the pain, helping the hurt, that we can realize that love of neighbor is simply an extension of loving ourselves. May God give us this vision and help us, too, to fulfill the Scripture, having Jesus’ mission and way as our mission and way as well.

And this is the Good News I offer you this 3rd Sunday. May God bless you.

Ronald Stephens

Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese and St. Andrew’s Cathedral Parish

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[Volume 3 (Luke) of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast from the last Cycle C, is available from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]

Homily for the 2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C (January 17)

January 9, 2016

Homily for the Second Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C (January 17)

Until recently, when a woman married she took the name of her husband. The first reading today is all about the changing of names. In Hebrew society, and throughout the Bible, when someone did something remarkable, there would be a name change. Abram becomes Abraham. In the New Testament Peter becomes Cephas and Saul becomes Paul. Isaiah is prophesying still after 62 chapters of prophecy. His prophecy is coming to a close, but he says he will not stop prophesying, will not keep silent or be at rest until Israel is vindicated in the eyes of God and the world. He predicts a time when Israel will be saved in the sight of all the nations, and in this event, it will be given a new name by God. Now, he says people are calling us by the names of “Forsaken” by God and “Desolate”, but soon Israel will be called “My Delight is in Her” and “Married”. He predicts that God will marry Israel and rejoice over his bride. And the bride’s name will be changed.

Whether or not that is where the tradition of changing a bride’s name comes from, what is being predicted here is that God will not forsake his chosen people, but will save them, forgive them, vindicate them, marry them, and rejoice over them. So this is again a Messianic prophecy and the promise of a new world.

The Gospel is about a marriage as well. We leave the Gospel of Luke for a week and jump to Jesus’ very first miracle as described in the Gospel of John which takes place at a wedding feast in Cana. There is a change of name in this story as well, and also, a physical transformation as water becomes wine.

There are many interesting things in this first miracle of Jesus as described by John. It is not a miracle as in the Synoptic Gospels which involves a cure of some sort or a raising from the dead. It seems almost insignificant and out of place, and perhaps that is why Jesus seems to have a bit of trouble in doing it.  He submits to the request of his mother either simply because she asks him, and he is obedient to her, or because he is aware of the embarrassment of the bride and groom. But it is a different kind of miracle than we have seen. And no-one wants to be embarrassed on a wedding day.

Just as a passing note, today, January 17th, would have been the 74th anniversary of my parent’s marriage. As it was they made it to 71 years. I have always thought that my father would have liked the expression”My delight is in her,” that we hear the bride called in Isaiah since their marriage was a really good one.

In any case, this was the first miracle, which John calls a “sign” causing belief in the disciples who were with him. I do find it rather comical that the water Jesus turned into the superior wine was from the jars they used to wash people’s feet. I wonder if there was any meaning in that as well.

If we pause to look at St. Paul’s epistle today, we see that it doesn’t thematically link up with the other two readings, nor does it usually, but I would suggest that in the marriage of God and his people, it is God who activates the marriage – the male counterpart. And it is the Spirit that is the activator. So Paul is able to explain to us that God activates in various ways in various people. We don’t all get the same gifts. That would be kind of boring or redundant. No, some gain knowledge, some become healers, some work miracles, some prophecy, some gain discernment, some speak in tongues and some are able to interpret tongues. And it is God who chooses what talents, what activities are activated in each of us and what we will be good at, perhaps even enhancing our natural God-given abilities.

So what can we concentrate on this week from the endings that we can integrate into our own lives? First of all, we need to take a deep breath that Christmas is over, and maybe look back at the good moments we had during that period, putting anything negative aside. We need to start discerning our own special abilities and what it is that we can give back to the church community. Many of us in the parish do many things. Some do more than others, but I would say we have a pretty active parish. The caring that I see for each other in this parish is also enormous and we have indeed become a family. We need to rejoice in that – treating every Eucharist as a wedding feast where we come together and enjoy each other more and more. Try to ask yourself what it is that can allow you to participate more fully in this community and see if you can find time to fit it in. The rewards for this are not just heavenly rewards but like the drinking of wine – it makes you feel “real good” as well!

Let us hope that within this parish we can truly be married to God and allow God to shine forth through our interests, talents and gifts.

And this is the blessing I ask of You and the Good News I impart on this beginning day of the Church’s “ordinary” or the time of non-special feasts. God bless.

Ronald Stephens

Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese and St. Andrew’s Cathedral Parish

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[Volume 3 (Luke) of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast from the last Cycle C, is available from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]

Homily for the Baptism of the Lord, Year C 2016 (January 10)

January 3, 2016

Homily for the Baptism of the Lord, Year C  2016  (January 10)

We begin the regular or “ordinary” church year with the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord because that it is the event that begins Jesus’ three years of preaching, healing and saving. It may seem strange to us that he waited so long to begin his public life, but it was the type of life that took preparation. During Jesus’ time, one had to be thirty years old before they could become a priest even.

During those thirty years, John the Baptist had been quite active. He was an eccentric character but not so eccentric that he didn’t draw multitudes of people to him. He was seen by the people of his time as a prophet and his messages were recognized as such. He was so popular and his message so strong that people even thought that he might be the Messiah himself.

John’s calling came to him in the desert, and this is reminiscent of the whole Exodus story while the people were waiting in the desert to get to a Promised Land. Similarly, John is preaching a message about another promised land – this time a person, who is yet to come.

Luke says that John was preaching a gospel, so what was the “good news” that he was preaching?  For Luke, the good news was that Israel could repent for her sins and be forgiven and that this will extend not just to Israelites but to all nations. The symbol for this good news was baptism, being washed by water. John used baptism as a symbol of how one prepared for the coming of the Lord, by repenting for one’s sins and turning one’s life around.

Luke also sees John’s baptism as an extension of the Hebrew history of salvation. John is a prophet in the line of other prophets, himself fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah which said that a voice would be heard in the wilderness to prepare the way of the Lord.

In the Gospel of Luke, we don’t have a description of a wild man like we do in Matthew and Mark, and John is identified more with the prophet Isaiah than with Elijah. For Luke, Jesus will be Elijah-like as we will see.

Luke’s Gospel story of John has some unique sections to it. As we have seen, different groups come to John to ask what they have to do to repent and John’s answer has always been a social and economic one – giving to the poor, sharing food and clothing, not over-taxing anyone, not victimizing the poor through blackmail or intimidating threats.

Today’s Gospel begins right after John has told them these things. They next want to know if he is the Messiah, the Christ. John answer’s them with three points. First, he is unworthy even to tie the shoe of the Christ; second, his baptism is different than the Christ’s all be; and third, the Christ will bring judgment to all the world. John explains that his baptism was a symbol for repentance which the person has already done. The Messiah’s baptism would bring the Holy Spirit and fire to the person. This is seen on Pentecost when tongues of fire descended on the Apostles and they received the Holy Spirit. The fire here is a symbol for the vigor with which they would then be able to proclaim the Gospel to others, to the world. The fire may also be a symbol for judgment as we heard John say before that the Messiah would separate the wheat from the chaff. The good news is that there is no need to fear judgment because we will have been able to repent and be forgiven.

The scene Luke draws of Luke’s baptism is a little different from the other evangelists. He does not specifically say that John baptized him even. This could be that Luke wanted to put Jesus at the center of the baptism story and not John. Luke seems to make only a passing reference to Jesus’ baptism and this could be because the early church seemed embarrassed by he fact that Jesus was baptized at all. As I have pointed out in other years, the Gospel writers after Mark seemed upset that someone who could not have sinned was baptized, a symbol for repenting for sin. Matthew covered it by saying that Jesus wanted to be a role model of sorts. Luke just sort of passes over it, and focuses on the heavens opening and God speaking.

The “heavens opening” recalls Isaiah’s prayer that the heavens be opened and that God comes as he did in the exodus.

After the heavens opened, Luke says that the Spirit came down on Jesus. Interesting, Luke comments that the Spirit had a bodily form like a bird, a dove. That is where we get a lot of our Christian images of the Spirit today as a dove. Apparently this image is a unique one and doesn’t appear in Hebrew literature – it is decidedly Christian. Why does Luke mention this dove? Probably to let his readers know that it was a real experience, a physical experience, one that could not be denied because it was “seen” by all. We will see the same sort of thing after the resurrection with comments made about Jesus’ eating and drinking and being touched.

Then God speaks, and his words are a combination of words from Psalm 2, a psalm which was recited at a king’s coronation and the second half, from Isaiah in today’s first reading, who describes the servant of God. So the two halves combine with images of kingship and service.

In the second reading today from Acts, also written by Luke, we get in Peter’s speech another mention of the baptism which interprets it as the moment when the Holy Spirit empowered Jesus to begin his work on earth. Luke never says that he became God’s son at this moment – he already established earlier that he was born the Messiah Son of God – but that this was the moment when he was to begin his work on earth.

Our first reading from Isaiah is chosen today because it picks up on the second half of God’s message of Jesus as the servant of God. The passage is about the suffering servant who achieves justice when God’s spirit is put upon him, the one who becomes a “light to the nations” and who opens the eyes of the blind. These are Epiphany themes that we saw last week. So everything is tied together, and Jesus is ready to begin his public life with the strength of the Spirit, the ideology of a servant, the genealogy of a king, and the backing of God.

What can we learn from these readings today then? First of all, that if we have repented in the season of Advent, saw the light with Christmas and Epiphany, we too are ready to be filled with the Spirit from our baptism and go out and do the things that we know that Jesus would want us to do. The social works that make for Jesus’ mission statement, showing lobe first to those in need, and then to all others, becoming one with our  worshipping community and spending time in prayer with our God. It sounds simple, but we know it isn’t. We have a role model in Jesus’ life – we need to start living it! And that is what the baptism of the Lord reminds us of today and that is the Good News that we are called on to live today!

Ronald Stephens

Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese and St. Andrew’s Cathedral Parish

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[Volume 3 (Luke) of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast from the last Cycle C, is available from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]